Needless to say, Quarterback Trent Steelman provides an "X" factor for the Black Knights' offense. He is every defensive coordinators' nightmare. When a play breaks down, he can extend the play and make something positive with his legs, and by his showing this summer, even his arm can't be ignored.
However, as the Army fans witness in 2011, the ultra-durable four year starter showed signs of breaking down and missed the latter part of the season. This lead to the coaching staff calling upon seldom used senior Max Jenkins, who was eventually replaced by freshman, Angel Santiago.
Although 100% healthy coming into the 2012 campaign, Steelman like any triple option QB, is susceptible to constant hits with or without the ball in his hands. Therefore, it is imperative that either Santiago or current frosh, AJ Schurr be prepared to step up and in if their number is called.
One major factor .... whoever is designated as the No. 2 guy, they must take ownership of the offense if called upon.
As such, Army backup quarterbacks Santiago and Schurr know two things if nothing else about the upcoming football season:
1) Their job is to fill in for senior fourth-year starter, Steelman when necessary.
"It's Trent's job and it's Trent's team," said Schurr, a freshman joining Big Army from the USMA Prep School last season. "Angel and I do everything we can to push him and make him better, but it's his team."
2) They are one play from being thrust into the game.
"Last year taught me that at any given moment in this offense I have to be poised and ready to play," said Santiago, a sophomore who played in four games and started one of the three that Steelman missed with injuries in 2011.
Santiago and Schurr have pulled away from the pack as the Nos. 2 and 3 quarterbacks on the depth chart as the Black Knights wind down fall camp. They have one week of camp remaining before beginning preparations for the season opener Sept. 8 at San Diego State.
But Santiago, a 5-foot-11, 188-pounder from Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) Eitwanda, is well aware he has to keep improving to hold off Schurr for the No. 2 spot. Last season Santiago started out No. 3 behind then-senior Max Jenkins, but he was No. 2 by the end of the year, including starting the Rutgers game after Jenkins started the Fordham and Air Force games.
"I was definitely fortunate to move up and play as a freshman last year," said Santiago, who arrived last fall from the Prep School. "A.J. is a great kid and great talent with a great future here. I try to help him out to the best of my ability whenever he has questions.
"If Trent stays healthy, I might only get in there when we're up (by a large margin). But if he goes down I feel confident I can lead this team."
Santiago finished the year carrying the ball in the triple-option offense 45 times for 162 yards and one touchdown with a long gain of 33. He completed 7 of 21 passes for 84 yards without a TD or an interception.
Steelman (6-foot-0, 207) was knocked out of the season's seventh game at Vanderbilt when he was replaced by both Santiago and Jenkins. For Santiago, it was his varsity debut and the night included his first touchdown.
Jenkins started the next two games, but Santiago opened in the season's 10th game against Rutgers, setting career bests with 30 carries for 72 yards and completing 6 of 15 passes for 77 yards in the 27-12 loss.
Santiago believes his most improvement this year will be come with reading defenses. He went from a spread option in high school, lined up in shotgun, to learning the triple-option and playing under center the last two years.
"It's easier for me now to see the types of blitzes and the defenses that they're in," Santiago said. "I'm a lot more comfortable with the offense and what everyone is doing. I'm making my reads quicker than last year."
Schurr, a 6-foot-0, 185-pounder from Libertyville (Ill.) High, said he now realizes the advantages of playing at the Prep School before arriving at West Point. He played in all 10 games, learning the triple-option offense after playing a spread offense in high school. He took all the snaps in the season finale against Navy.
"I know a lot more about the line calls and who does what having gone through the Prep School," Schurr said. "I'd have a tougher time catching up if I was a direct admit because it does move fast in fall camp. I'm not falling behind. I'm understanding everything."
Something else Santiago and Schurr benefit from is Steelman's experience. The Bowling Green, Ken., product has 33 career starts entering the 2012 season and is the first Army quarterback with career totals topping 2,000 yards rushing and 2,000 passing.
"Steelman is a great guy," Santiago said. "If I have a question, he answers it. He's taken 1,000 reps."
Schurr said he realizes from running plays in fall camp if he didn't react quickly enough to something he saw, he can confirm his suspicions through Steelman to correct it before he makes the same mistake twice.
"He tells me what I should have seen instead of me not knowing the next time," Schurr said.
Santiago has playing experience on Schurr, but Schurr says he's confident if he can take control of the offense if called upon.
"Angel and I work our butts off every day to be ready," Schurr said. "Coach Shields (Ian, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach) throws us in there with the starters to get a couple of reps in case something does happen to Trent. We have to be ready to run with the 1s. We don't want that to happen, but we're working every day to be ready."'
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